The challenges of learning Swedish

Learning a new language is funny, interesting and challenging, at the same time.

Like in any language, there is a learning curve: in the beginning, you learn massive amounts of vocabulary (of which you can only retain 50%); then, throughout time, your learning curve slows down, because you have already learnt the basics, and it starts to get more difficult to move to more advanced levels.

Engaging in conversations is probably the best method to learn a new language, but if talking about work is more or less fine, on a meeting, the same does not apply to other topics – it’s much more difficult! And writing, in comparison, is a lot easier!

First of all, though we have some accented letters in Portuguese, Spanish and French (some very difficult, indeed!), we don’t use “¨”, let alone a letter with some kind of ball on top (this is my best description…). So, this sound is hardly ever easy for us, specially when we have to think before speaking what kind of sound do we have to make, considering we want an “å” or an “ä”. To make matters worse, there is a place called Öland, another one Åland, and with a bit of luck, there must be something called äland, even if it’s only a piece of furniture from IKEA.

I don’t dare to say what is more difficult about Swedish. I have to admit it is much easier than German, because at least, you can build simple sentences with a bit of practice, something impossible in German. The grammar is more difficult than the English one, but not the verbs (those are equally simple!). I think the pronunciation is the worst, to the point that I will NEVER be able to correctly pronounce some words, like:

  • Sju = Seven
  • Sjö = Lake
  • Any word ending in -tion (like): information, kommunication

From some point on, we start to speak and think automatically in Swedish, but until then, it’s a painful exercise, to think how we should pronounce one of the “tricky” words, whenever we meet them, like:

  • Skellefteå ([schelléfte]) = city name
  • Skillnad ([ɧɪlˌnad]) = difference
  • Kyrka ([ɕyrka]) = church

And this takes me back to my first Swedish lesson, where we learn that there are 9 vowels! Yes, 9! There are soft and hard vowels, and it´s very important that we know which are which, because that´s what tells us the difference if a simple word like “Skellefteå” will be pronounced as “sk” or “sch”. And believe me, this one is hard to buy. The problem is that when you are writing, you are so much used to the sound “sch” instead of the “sk” that you are most likely to write it wrong.

I´m pretty much sure that I have committed (more than once) mistakes like using heter (used in “my name is”) instead of äter (eating), when I wanted the other way around. But exhaling can be very difficult, when in our native language, we have the same sound, whether it takes an “h” or not, meaning the “h” is purely decorative!

There is something else that makes Swedish difficult: the ability of the grammar to add words together, making it possible to have extreme long words, with 20 or 30 letters.

Finally, the difference between North and South. Everyone keeps telling me how lucky I am to live in Northern Sweden, because apparently, they are known to speak slowly. The truth is, I watched a short video today, on a training, and I couldn’t understand a single word of it. Turns out it was a joke, and from Skåne!


Swedish food I just cannot live without…

Lately, I’ve been finding a lot of posts about the stuff Portuguese miss the most when they move abroad.

It might be shocking for most of the people but I don’t miss Portuguese food! And the reason is simple: yes, they say Portuguese food is one of the best in Europe, but for people who eat meat! Yes, we have codfish, but we have been eating it dried for ages, when we could taste it like Norwegians do! That’s real codfish 🙂

I would say that around 80% of the typical Portuguese food is meat. Very heavy (caloric) food and nutritionally unbalanced (like rice, potatoes and beans on the same meal), it has never been to my liking, even when I ate meat, as a kid.

Then you could ask: and the pastries, and the sweets? They are even sweeter than in Sweden, and very caloric (long goes our tradition of adding 24 eggs to a cake – yes, it’s true!). So, apart two or three pastries that are “dry”, I don’t really appreciate them to miss them.

There’s also a lot of dishes in Swedish cuisine with meat, specially in Northern Sweden, where hunting is a part of life. Then, there’s fish, like surströmming, but that is another story.

One day I leave Sweden, there are some items I will certainly miss, because they are unique, and I cannot find them outside Scandinavia:

  1. Kanelbullar/Cinammon buns – the most amazing pastry I’ve tasted. Very simple, but we don’t have it in Portugal (probably, because the recipe takes only one egg).
  2. Lax pittypanna (small pieces in a pan) – the traditional is made with potatoes, onions, beetroot, egg and chopped meat or sausage.  The one with salmon is wonderful. And the vegan alternative is also delicious!
  3. Polarbröd – flatbread, light and soft, excellent for sandwiches (rye, wheat or oatmeal). I was never a bread eater, but for picnics and going outdoors, this bread got my heart!
  4. Fil – something in between yoghurt and milk, but sour, and suitable for lactose intolerant people. The Swedish yoghurt is very good, but the fil is delicious!